July 10, 2019
Every successful story involves either a change in character or a reason why they haven’t changed. It’s the difference between cardboard and real life.
The arc of a character involves their internal growth, on such qualities as morals or values, emotional strength and conflicting beliefs. A character’s growing awareness of themselves is more powerful if it involves a struggle, such as situations that test your character on all levels.
So, it is important to establish who your character is on an emotional and moral basis at the beginning of the story. This creates a benchmark and their arc can progress from there.
Here are ten questions writer can ask themselves to check on the arc of a character throughout their story:
1. At the beginning of the story, what are your character’s flaws (lack of confidence, arrogance, ignorance, etc.)
2. What is your character’s emotional wound (abandonment, witness to trauma, least favourite child, etc.)
3. What is her world view and what does it prevent her from doing?
4. How will your character’s knowledge of himself change throughout the story? In increments with each struggle? All at once in a defining moment when he loses everything?
5. How often are your character’s flaws tested or challenged? To increase tension, remember to escalate her challenges. Make them active scenes, not simply internal struggles.
6. In what ways will the character resist change? Remember to vary the intensity and circumstance.
7. How does the character’s world view change? Allow your reader to see this change in action. Does she receive information? Does he observe something with fresh eyes?
8. At what point does your character gain some insight into his own personality or makeup? (usually occurs just after the mid-point.)
9. At what point does your character act on that insight? (should be close to the climax or be part of what leads to that climax)
10. How is the change demonstrated in the story? Or, if there is no change in your character, is there a clear decision not to change?
These are great questions for all writers and can be applied to both main and secondary characters. Use the questions at the early stages of plotting your novel or thinking about your story. After your first draft, review again and look for places where you can make scenes more active or increase your character’s internal struggle as needed.
Just like you, the people in your story must experience growth on a variety of levels. And as a writer, it’s your job to create characters who live and breathe for your readers.